The role of a digital communication platform in a culture transformation

In today’s world, just about everyone has a smart phone and therefore the possibility of connecting with others in a myriad of creative ways. Tech companies offer all kinds of collaborative software including real time messaging, file sharing, video meetings, etc. Without a doubt, all of these features have an impact on the culture of an organization. However, most of these software offerings are targeted for individual or team use.

What is needed to support an organization’s culture is a digital offering which inhabits the same dimension where culture lives, one which is a systemic digital offering.

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This was the conundrum which Ensemble Enabler faced when embarking on a large-scale culture transformation process at Musashi Europe GmbH – an automobile parts manufacturer based near Frankfurt, Germany. We had both traditional and not so traditional analog tools (surveys, leadership workshops, Peer-to-Peer Networking conversations, large scale thematic events) at our disposal to help shift and mold the culture. Moreover, we felt that in today’s world a digital component needed to be added to our culture transformation process to support and magnify our efforts.

Musashi Europe is the result of the acquisition of various metal forging manufacturing plants in Germany, Hungary and Spain. They were brought together and finally became a unit when they were acquired by Musashi Seimitsu Industry Co. from Japan.

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Facilitating cross-plant and geographical collaboration

The culture transformation imperative facing this new company is to facilitate and enhance cross-plant and geographical collaboration. This priority is particularly urgent in the face of the shift from fossil fuels to electro-mobility in the automobile industry. The goal of the culture renewal program is to create a sense of identity and belonging across all 9 geographic locations throughout Europe. This is important not only to enhance collaboration within Europe but globally as well. A culture should also emerge which invites greater employee participation in management decisions and fosters a more pro-active accountable attitude throughout the organization.

Against this contextual backdrop, Musashi Europe was a company only beginning to synchronize its IT systems across geographic locations and initiating the process to install collaborative software such as Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams. Almost half of the employees (primarily those active on the shop floor) do not have access to PCs or laptops. What digital communication did take place amongst employees outside of e-mail occurred over WhatsApp – often with employees using their own smart phones.

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A systemic approach to enhance digital communication within a community which strengthens an organization's culture too!

As we searched for a digital element to support our culture renewal efforts, we came across the digital communication platform – Pinboards. Pinboards is a closed network software communications platform, i.e. it is built to enhance communication within a pre-defined community. Individual postings can be made by anyone inside the community. The platform promotes interactive digital conversations through the help of likes and comments/reactions to individual postings. The postings themselves are organized and stored according to a set of customized categories and sub-categories which help to facilitate the navigation through the platform.

To be precise, Pinboards is a software communications platform which is systemic in nature. As a result, it is exactly the kind of digital support needed to support a culture renewal process.

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Because Pinboards is a closed network, it can be branded.

The symbolic impact of this possibility is key to creating ownership of the platform. Musashi Pinboards was provided a Musashi Europe look based on their corporate design guidelines. As a user logs onto the platform, the reference to Pinboards is nowhere to be seen. Instead the Musashi Europe logo appears in the familiar corporate identity color palette accompanied in big bold letters with the slogan of the culture renewal program “We form the future”. In other words, this is OUR Musashi Europe’s communication platform - not some kind of external software. Only current employees of Musashi Europe are allowed to use the platform. Again, this reinforces the sense that this is OUR platform.

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The categories and sub-categories used to classify individual postings were also customized.

Through an interactive feedback process using surveys and focus groups, 12 categories were created which reflect the key interests of the Musashi Europe community.

1) business issues (for instance: the future of our company, a technical exchange forum, process improvement suggestions, etc.),

2) cultural issues (examples of living the values, recognition/appreciation of colleagues, Peer-to-Peer Networking sessions, etc.),

3) social issues (ride sharing, sport, celebrations, etc.) and

4) event information.

For the first time, platform users are able to communicate directly with employees from other plants in an easy and transparent way. Communication across hierarchies has also been improved as all levels of hierarchies are participating on the platform. As one employee noted:

“On Pinboards we can see what managing directors are saying and thinking. On occasion we may even be able to enter into a direct digital conversation with them!”

We are currently transitioning from a test phase with a limited number of users to inviting all employees to register onto the platform. Nevertheless, the cultural impact is already visible. The general awareness of what is going on in other plants has risen considerably. In one instance, a plant posted its plans for a Christmas party. That invited a lot of participation and comments from employees about the planned party from that one plant. But that was only the beginning. Seeing all that activity taking place on the platform, other plants jumped in as well and before too long, Christmas party preparations were being discussed on the platform for all plants! Moreover, good ideas were being shared across plants.

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Similar postings have been made on key business issues such as safety. A common posting for one of the plants is to remind everyone how many days have gone by without an injury. The idea is to foster a sense of pride and awareness in the exemplary safety policies and practices which have been put in place.

The first examples of a bottom-up pro-active accountable attitude – one of the goals of the culture renewal program – are beginning to be seen. One of the company values is “Resourcefulness” – i.e. creatively seeking solutions to the challenges which the company faces. In the spirit of this value, a group of employees at one plant decided that they could be a lot more “resourceful” if they had an informal space where they could reflect with others about how to meet these challenges. Their idea? To create a Creativity Room – something other companies have instituted - but was new to Musashi Europe. After getting management approval for their initiative, employees selected a space and converted it into a Creativity Room via a completely bottom-up self-organized process. A neighboring plant recognized what had happened through the Pinboards platform. Within a relatively short time, the second plant also created its own Creativity Room in a similar pro-active self-organized manner!

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A unique peer-to-peer verification process further strengthens a company culture

As more and more employees join the platform, Pinboards will in effect become one of the most important communication channels in the company. One final challenge lies in the way to achieve this desired goal. Nearly one half of the employees do not have access to PCs or laptops. As a result, they also do not have company e-mails. For the sake of IT security, it is important to verify and regulate those individuals who get access to the Musashi Europe Pinboards platform. Typically a company e-mail is a reliable gateway for this kind of verification. However, given the number of employees at Musashi Europe who do not have a company e-mail, a significant verification challenge was posed. A solution was found in an approach which will further strengthen the company culture: peer-to-peer verification. Without going into technical detail, this process enables employees who are currently using the Pinboards platform to personally verify those employees who would like to register on the Musashi Pinboards platform. Once this verification has taken place, the new user can use his/her personal smart phone to participate on the platform. In other words, most users of the platform will be personally invited to take part.

In this case, the digital journey begins with an analog handshake.

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A deliberate strategy by management to enhance communication

Using Pinboards as a systemic form of digital communication among all employees is a deliberate strategy by Musashi Europe’s management. Not only does the platform support an overall understanding of the company’s vision among the employees and their personal role to “form” its future; it also provides a participatory avenue to foster all of Musashi Europe’s values by providing real examples of living these values in its daily business.

By creating a digital forum to facilitate open communication among all employees, a new communication realm has been created to build a knowledge sharing culture which will support Musashi Europe’s on-going business and digital transformation.

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